A Staten Island man, Saadah Masoud, who was accused of committing a series of attacks on Jews in New York City in 2021 and 2022, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal hate crimes conspiracy charge.
One of Mr. Masoud’s victims had been walking alongside a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Midtown Manhattan in April while wearing a large Israeli flag wrapped around his neck and draped down his back. Mr. Masoud, who was one of the demonstrators, told his victim, “I have something for you — wait until we are in private,” according to the authorities.
Mr. Masoud eventually punched the man repeatedly in the head and face and dragged him across a sidewalk, an indictment charged.
The indictment also accused Mr. Masoud of assaulting two other men, in separate attacks, in 2021. One man had been wearing a necklace with a Star of David, while the other was wearing traditional clothing associated with the Jewish religion, including a skullcap, the indictment said.
“Saadah Masoud deliberately targeted three victims because of their religion and nation of origin,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “There is no place in this country for this offensive and hateful conduct.”
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A federal judge, Denise L. Cote of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said she would sentence Mr. Masoud, who could face up to five years in prison, on March 3.
Mr. Masoud’s guilty plea comes amid a heightened focus by the authorities on episodes of antisemitism and extremist violence in New York and elsewhere.
Just last week, two men were arrested at Pennsylvania Station in New York after an investigation into what the city’s police commissioner, Keechant L. Sewell, had described as a “developing threat to the Jewish community.” The authorities seized an eight-inch military-style knife and an illegally held gun with a 30-round magazine from the men. Law enforcement officials said threats of violence, including the shooting up of a synagogue, had been found on social media posts linked to one of the men.
On Tuesday, Mr. Masoud told Judge Cote that he had “repeatedly punched” the man wearing the Israeli flag “because I perceived him to be an Israeli.”
Mr. Masoud said he could not discern what the man’s race or ethnicity was, but he did have an Israeli flag.
“He was counterprotesting, and I will admit that I assaulted him,” Mr. Masoud said.
Mr. Masoud’s victim, Matt Greenman, was left with a swollen and bruised face and was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.
Mr. Greenman, who described the attack in an interview with PIX11, said he had gone to watch the pro-Palestinian demonstration, which was near 42nd Street and First Avenue.
“I wanted to just go and see what it was all about,” Mr. Greenman, who is Jewish, said in the interview. “I had the Israeli flag on my back as a cape.”
While some of the marchers started to circle around him, Mr. Greenman said, his attacker “got me from behind; he got me to the ground. He was punching me in the face.
“He kicked me in the face a whole bunch,” he said.
Gerard Filitti, a lawyer who represents Mr. Greenman on behalf of the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit group that says it defends “the civil and human rights of the Jewish people,” called Mr. Masoud’s guilty plea a significant development.
“It’s not every day that the Justice Department takes on a hate crime targeting Jews,” Mr. Filitti said. “It sends clearly the message that violent crimes targeting the Jewish community will not be tolerated.”
In court, Mr. Masoud also told Judge Cote that he had punched the man wearing the Star of David necklace because he believed he was Israeli.
Ronald L. Kuby, a lawyer for Mr. Masoud, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that his client’s “extended family over generations suffered horribly at the hands of the Israeli government, and much of that has been passed down to him.”
Mr. Kuby added, “That explains — but doesn’t justify — his conduct.”
At the hearing, a federal prosecutor, Lindsey Keenan, told Judge Cote that prosecutors had recently learned that Mr. Masoud might have “contacted and threatened a person who he believes to be a government witness.” Ms. Keenan said her office was investigating, and she held out the possibility that the government would ask the judge to revoke Mr. Masoud’s bail.
The judge warned Mr. Masoud to have no contact directly or indirectly with anyone he perceived to be a government witness.
Mr. Masoud’s case was the first to be charged by a newly created civil rights unit within the Southern District’s criminal division, a spokesman, Nicholas Biase, said.